London based Sean Taylor has released several albums over the past ten years which cast him as a folky troubadour with one foot in the blues and the other treading into beatnik territory. He’s been compared to John Martyn (reinforced perhaps by his regular collaborations with bassist Danny Thompson) and Blabber’n’Smoke has sung his praises when reviewing earlier albums, Walk With Me and Love Against Death. Flood & Burn, his eighth album, finds him at the top of his game as he delivers 12 songs that embrace pensive folk moodiness, jazz influences and country blues. Recorded in Austin, Texas with producer Mark Hallman (who plays bass, drums, keyboards and mandolin) several of the songs have a greater American bent than I recall from his earlier albums with the spritely Until The End Of Time skipping along with its twinkling guitars recalling The Byrds and The Sadies.
The album opens with the fog ridden Codeine Dreams, its lonesome sax evoking a film noir treatment of addiction as Taylor almost whispers the lyrics inducing a narcotic feel. It flows freely into the easy bass driven lope of A Good Place To Die which again has a cinematic feel to it as Taylor’s lyrics approach a Dylan like opacity with gutsy guitar solos and whirling organ bursting loose towards the end. From Dylan, Taylor moves into Tom Waits territory with the bristling God-fearing blues shuffle that is Run To The Water and he wades deeper into this territory on the title song which is suffused with biblical images with guitar, banjo and slide guitar providing a skeletal backbone for this delicious dip into an antebellum world. Even more Waits like is the boho bluesiness of Bad Case Of The Blues with Taylor evoking Bukowski and Townes Van Zandt over a blowsy drunken rhythm embroidered by Hana Piranha’s gypsy fiddle while the one cover on the album, Heartbreak Hotel, is given a gutbucket blues dress down, guitars snapping like coiled snakes with Taylor adding some fine blues harp as Eliza Gilkyson joins in on vocals. Taylor relaxes somewhat on the jazzy vibes of The Cruelty Of Man which is almost Tom Waits elevator music (not a criticism) as it slides along with ease, trumpeter Ephraim Owens adding some colour but this late night effervescence disguises the barbed lyrics which rail against the homogenisation of modern culture.
Elsewhere Taylor returns to his native roots on several songs with Troubadour a wonderful conglomeration of rippling guitars, pedal steel and piano that has the autumnal feel of Nick Drake and the gentle propulsion of Pentangle. Life Goes On is a hypnotic drone that does recall John Martyn’s work as it weaves and wends its way while Beautiful Mind delves even deeper into Martyn’s song poems. Taylor caps this with the closing song, Better Man, which features Danny Thompson on double bass on a song that seems to be about the travails of being a travelling musician. Whatever it’s a wonderful closure to what is a wonderful album.